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Managing an Identity Crisis: Forum Guide to Implementing New Federal Race and Ethnicity Categories
NFES 2008-802
October 2008

4.2 Issue #2—The Two-Part Question: Ethnicity First, Race Second

  • The Final Guidance requires the use of the two-part question format. The first part of the question asks whether or not an individual is Hispanic/Latino. The definition used for Hispanic/Latino is “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.” While this part of the question pertains to ethnicity, to avoid confusion the word “ethnicity” need not be mentioned. The second part of the question asks an individual to select one or more races from the following five racial groups: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. Note that an alternative such as “some other races” or “race unknown” is not an option.6
question point

The two-part question may look like this:

Part A.    Is this student (or Are you) Hispanic/Latino? (Choose only one)

  • No, not Hispanic/Latino
  • Yes, Hispanic/Latino (A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.)

The above part of the question is about ethnicity, not race.  No matter what you selected above, please continue to answer the following by marking one or more boxes to indicate what you consider your student's (or your) race to be.”

Part B.    What is the student's (or your) race? (Choose one or more)

  • American Indian or Alaska Native (A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.)
  • Asian  (A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.)
  • Black or African American (A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.)
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.)
  • White (A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.)
  • The Hispanic population has grown in the last few decades, becoming the largest minority group in many school districts. Census studies found that Hispanic reporting was more accurate with the two-part format. Asking respondents whether or not they are Hispanic before asking them to identify a race reduces the tendency to confuse race with country of origin (e.g. Peruvian, Boliviano).
  • People of Hispanic origin may be of any race and should answer the part of the question on race by marking one or more race categories (presented in the second part of question). It is important to design the form in a way that enables respondents to understand that both parts of the question are to be answered. Many Hispanic/Latino respondents may be accustomed to calling “Hispanic” a race. Therefore, a transition line between the ethnicity and race questions such as this can be helpful: “The Hispanic/Latino part of the question is about ethnicity, not race. No matter what you selected above, please continue to answer the following by marking one or more boxes to indicate what you consider your race to be.”
  • Nothing prohibits states and school districts from offering additional racial and ethnic categories for their own purposes. To reflect the diversity of its population, a state may collect a more detailed breakdown of a racial category (such as Korean, Japanese, or Chinese as separate categories for Asians). The only requirement is that these additional categories must be collapsed into the five federal races and one ethnicity category. States could decide to collect data from districts as aggregate or individual reports. However, the original information, which is maintained on an individual's education or employment records, must be collected using the two-part question format. And, the district or state must be able to report racial and ethnic data to ED in the seven aggregate categories described in the Final Guidance and in chapter 1 of this guide.

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6 Postsecondary institutions and Rehabilitation Services Administration grantees use self-identification only and do not use observer identification.  They will be allowed to use the “race and ethnicity unknown” category when reporting data to ED


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